02 Dec 2017

The Lines That Divide America

Americans are increasingly segregated by socioeconomic class—and have forgotten that all citizens deserve a shot at moving ahead.
by Nitin Nohria


Photo via The Atlantic

In a new article in The Atlantic, Dean Nitin Nohria draws parallels between standing in a waiting line and the current sense of unfairness and inequality being experienced by many Americans.

“Access to the line that delivers the American Dream in exchange for hard work is now both limited and unevenly granted,” he writers. “Worse yet, white working-class citizens perceive others—mainly minorities and immigrants—to be unfairly cutting ahead of them in line. And members of the white working class believe the government, rather than enforcing the fair process they had come to expect, is increasingly aiding and abetting these line-cutters.”

Nohria argues that feelings are equally strong among people with means, who see their own hard work, creativity, and sacrifices as justification for having their own first-class lines, thereby deepening the resentment and the socioeconomic divide.

“These emotions have a pernicious and corrosive effect on American ideals,” Nohria warns.

In the article he points to several efforts currently being undertaken by Harvard Business School that encourage students to see and experience “lines different from their own,” including recruitment of first-in-family students and small-group field immersion courses that teach empathy as well as leadership skills.

“Many regard Harvard Business School … as offering its students an all-but-guaranteed path into the lines for the privileged,” he writes. “That places a particular burden on us to ensure our students understand their responsibility to create value before they claim value, and their need to foster economic opportunities and a better life not just for themselves, but for others.”



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